Jesus shared a story (parable) about forgiving others.
Jesus’ illustration was prompted by Peter, who asked if forgiving someone seven times was enough; Peter thought seven times was generous. Jesus upped the figure considerably, saying seventy-seven times. But we don’t take this amount literally, instead understanding that Jesus really meant we need to forgive others “more times than we can count” or “without limit.”
Jesus’ story, however, takes the idea of forgiveness to another level. A man, who owed a huge debt he could never repay, begged for mercy, for more time to make payment. But instead of receiving additional time, the debt was forgiven.
But then the man threatened someone who owed him a tiny bit of money. No mercy was given; no forgiveness was offered. He withheld from others what had been given to him.
Because of the man’s selfishness and not treating others as he was treated, his debt was reinstated and he was thrown into prison and tortured. Our fate will be no different if we don’t forgive others.
We, who have been forgiven much by God, need to likewise forgive others. The risk of withholding forgiveness is too great.
In my post Be Careful What You Pray I mention a line in the Lord’s Prayer, “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”
Different groups have different wording for this line. There are three I’ve run into:
1) “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” The word debt, conjures up thoughts of loans and money. That limits what Jesus meant and isn’t helpful.
2) “Forgive our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” The word trespass evokes walking uninvited on someone’s property. That’s not helpful either. (However, the dictionary gives a broader understanding for both these words.)
3) “Forgive our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” To me, sin is the word that conveys the full impact of this phrase, but I understand some people are put off by that word.
I recently heard a fourth version, which I like for its clarity:
4) “Forgive us for the wrongs we have done, as we have forgiven those who have wronged us.”
That connects with me. I hope one of these four versions connects with you. Now we just need to pray it — and do it.
In my post on forgiveness, I cited the instructions of Jesus: when someone treats us wrongly we are to first confront (“rebuke”) them about the issue. If they apologize or acknowledge their error (“repent”), then we are to forgive them.
From this, we can infer a three-step process:
- We confront
- They apologize
- We forgive
Which evokes several questions:
- Must apology proceed forgiveness?
- If the offending person refuses to apologize are we still expected to forgive?
- What about us and Jesus, do we need to apologize (“confess” and “repent”) to him before he will forgive us?
Frankly, I don’t know the answers to these questions. Although this passage implies one set of answers, other verses in the Bible suggest the opposite.
Could the real answer to each question be “maybe?” Perhaps God wants to keep us from turning his words into a simple three-step procedure. Instead he gives us guidelines to study, interpret, and apply as appropriate.
Once when teaching his disciples, Jesus addresses forgiveness.
He says when someone treats us wrongly we are to first confront (“rebuke”) them about the issue. If they apologize or acknowledge their error (“repent”), then we are to forgive them.
Although Jesus literally says we are to do this seven times, there is actually no limit to forgiveness.
What a great picture of God’s mercy towards us – endless, unconditional forgiveness!
[Luke 17:3-4, Matthew 18:22]
The Lord’s Prayer contains a curious phrase that gives me pause. Frankly it makes me uncomfortable every time I say it.
The passage in question is “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” We mean the first part, but do we really mean the second part?
When we ask this of God, are we implicitly requesting him to forgive us only to the degree we forgive others?
If so, I want to make sure I’m not holding any grudges or have any unforgiveness in my heart towards others.
The consequences are too great for anything less.
Jesus’ teaching on binding and loosing is a bit perplexing and worthy of careful contemplation. A parallel passage talks about forgiving sin and is even more disconcerting.
Jesus says that if we forgive someone’s sins, they will be forgiven; conversely if we don’t forgive someone’s sins, they will not be forgiven.
That is an even heavier burden, realizing that our holding of a grudge — that is, not forgiving someone — will result in the withholding of forgiveness for their sins.
However, it is even more weighty than that.
Consider the “Lord’s Prayer” and the phrase “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” Through this prayer we are actually asking God to only forgive us to the degree to which we forgive others.
Given the severity of the ramifications, we need to be most diligent in forgiving all others and not holding a grudge.
The book of Proverbs contains the majority of the Bible’s mentions of the word “adulteress” (seven times in Proverbs compared to five times in the rest of the Bible). An “adulteress” is “a woman who commits adultery,” that is, she has sex with someone other than her husband. In today’s language, that is referred to as “cheating.”
Solomon warns his son — and all men — to stay away from the adulteress.
The Law of Moses notes that both the adulterer (the male participant) and the adulteress (the female participant) should be put to death (Leviticus 20:10). That is how serious God views the breaking of marriage vows.
Although the majority of modern society takes a much more casual perspective on lifelong monogamy, God’s staunch opposition to adultery hasn’t changed. Fortunately, his response has. In the Old Testament (as mentioned above), the prescribed response to adultery is judgment. However, in the New Testament, Jesus — God’s son — demonstrates a kinder, gentler response: mercy (John 8:1-11).
However, remember that even though Jesus will give both the adulterer and adulteress mercy and forgiveness, the offended spouse may not likely be so understanding.
[Mentions of adulteress in the Bible.]
There is an account of Jesus, when a paralyzed man seeks to be healed. In a surprise move, Jesus confounds everybody by forgiving the man’s sins! Jesus had realized that this man’s greatest need was not physical, but spiritual, so he addressed that first.
Knowing that it is much easier to say “your sins are forgiven” then to make a lame man walk, Jesus then healed the man (thereby proving he had the power to forgive sins) and addressed the man’s second greatest need.
In doing so, Jesus shows that he came not only to save (forgive our sins), but also to heal.
[Matthew 9:2-8, Mark 2:2-12, and Luke 5:18-26]